ATLANTA -- The damage was done, but Johan Santana still wasn't finished. Not with plate umpire C.B. Bucknor, the person he believed was the architect of his destruction.
In the mind of the pitcher, along with coach Dan Warthen, manager Terry Collins and anyone else in a Mets uniform, it was Bucknor who booby-trapped the fifth inning, when the Braves scored all six runs in a 6-1 win at Turner Field.
Bucknor's questionable strike zone and a late timeout given to Michael Bourn set in motion a series of events that resulted in the ejection of Warthen, another tirade from Collins and the game-changing outburst fueled by Freddie Freeman's three-run homer.
When it finally ended with a strikeout of Brian McCann, Santana kept jawing with Bucknor as he walked off the mound, crossed the third-base line and headed for the dugout. At one point, Bucknor held up his hand in Santana's direction.
"He just said, 'Enough's enough,' " Santana said.
It sure was. Somehow, Ben Sheets -- in his first start since 2010 after being sidelined by Tommy John surgery -- held the Mets to two hits, walked one and struck out five as the Braves won their seventh straight. The Mets, who have lost five of six, think he got some help from Bucknor, and Warthen had no problem telling the ump to his face.
"The discrepancy in the strike zones -- I thought it was a much wider strike zone for Mr. Sheets," Warthen said. "I thought Santana made some good pitches both on [Paul] Janish and on Bourn and didn't get the calls. They were strikes for the other team. They were not strikes for us."
The Mets believed that Santana had Janish struck out on a backdoor slider -- he eventually walked after Matt Diaz's single -- and also had struck out Bourn looking on a 1-and-2 fastball. But Bourn, given new life, smoked an RBI double to leftfield to spark the six-run rally.
"Guy throws a strike, it's a strike," Mets catcher Josh Thole said. "That's the bottom line. That changed the course of the game."
It certainly changed the course of the afternoon for Warthen, who was on a mission when he went out to protect Santana -- and waited for Bucknor to arrive. "I didn't intend to be in the game after that," Warthen said. "When I left the dugout, I felt that I was leaving."
Now the Mets, who slipped to three games over .500 (46-43) for the first time since June 26, have to make sure they stay in the playoff hunt. The last time they suffered a three-game sweep at Turner Field was 2009, and it doesn't get any easier as they head to D.C. for three games with the Nationals. Collins said he thinks his club is approaching a crisis point. "I do," he said. "We're not swinging the bats anywhere like we can, like we have been. We've got to get that going again."
The Mets' rotation, previously a strength, is looking weaker by the day. Santana has allowed at least six runs in back-to-back starts for the first time since 2000, his rookie season, and the starters were rocked by Atlanta for 16 runs in 13 innings. None made it past the fifth.
As for Santana, he's 4-4 with a 4.44 ERA since his June 1 no-hitter, and the frustration of those two at-bats Sunday apparently bothered him later in the inning. After Bourn's double, Martin Prado hit a sacrifice fly, and two singles later, Freeman hammered a changeup into the right-centerfield seats.
"It's tough," Santana said. "When you have a game like this, one pitch can be the difference in the game. I didn't question anything. I was doing my job. That's too bad that a couple of pitches changed the whole ballgame."
The Mets didn't go down quietly, though, with two ejections in two days, and Collins even joined Warthen on the mound during his animated discussion with the umpiring crew. When things failed to cool down, even bench coach Bob Geren started to head toward the mound.
Geren made it only halfway before the mound fracas began to split apart, but hours later, Warthen wasn't backing down. When asked if he had to make a stand, he replied, "It was time."
The Mets are getting to that point, too.